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Getting Nostalgic in Nilambur

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fwd life Teak Town homestay (1)

A stay in Teak Town homestay takes one back to one’s childhood days, writes Divya Nambiar

Words by: Divya Nambiar   Photographs from: Wandertrails

It was like walking back in time, walking into Teak Town in Nilambur. And to make it complete, I took a train from Bangalore to Calicut, and by road thereafter. The ancestral home is set in a sprawling 6-acre estate of coconut palms and fruit orchards. Sticking true to its roots, plenty of wood is used in the interiors as well as furnishings. With beautifully done up rooms that remind one of home and hosts who treat the guests just as one of their family, Teak Town homestay took me 15 years back in time to some of the happiest memories of my life. Right from the sloping tiled roof to the thick wooden pillars, every effort has been taken to keep the traditional essence of the property intact, whilst ensuring that modern comforts are not compromised on. The home is filled with tiny little nooks where I just curled up with a book and took naps.

fwd life Teak Town homestay (5)

I spent many blissful hours walking around in the estate dotted with tall coconut and fruit trees. By virtue of being in one of the most virgin regions of Kerala, as yet untarnished by the ravages of modernisation, the property is an oasis of natural beauty. Nilambur in Malappuram district is known as the ‘Land of Teak Plantations’. The place is blessed with natural bounty, rich with forests and wildlife. The dense cover of teak forests makes it one of the largest producers of teak in the country.

fwd life Teak Town homestay (3)

Any wonder that JK, the owner of the homestay, named it Teak Town? The home has been in JK’s family for over 70 years. And he considers every guest as one of his own; he’s throwing open his home to them, after all! A lot of love and effort has gone into refurbishing the house and making it a haven of solitude for those who are looking for that authentic God’s Own Country experience.

fwd life Teak Town homestay (1)

But what made the trip truly exciting was the sprawling off-road track that JK has painstakingly set up in the premises. Being an avid off-roader himself, he has put all the open space to good use by creating a 15-obstacle course track that includes trenches, thickets, slush, hillocks and what not! Not only will it give you the adrenaline fix that you crave for, it will also give you a chance to experience the gorgeous outdoors of Nilambur. There is even an off-roading academy within the property, if you fancy a longish adventure. I was a little rattled at the end of it, but boy was it thrilling!

fwd life Teak Town homestay (2)

All that adventure gave me quite an appetite. Breakfast, lunch and dinner was a spread of authentic Malabar dishes like chicken varutharachathu, pulisserry, spicy fried fish, puttu kadla, appam stew, etc. If you aren’t familiar with a Malayali’s idea of showering love, let me warn you – they don’t take no for an answer. As soon as they see an empty plate, they will pile more food onto it, despite your not-so-vehement opposition. Just when I was recovering from the afternoon’s food-induced coma, there came the snack that every Malayali is proud of – pazham pori – golden fried fritters of sweet ripe bananas, accompanied by a cup of tea.

fwd life Teak Town homestay (6)

The homestay is located a stone’s throw away from the world’s first Teak Museum. If you are a plant and tree-nerd, go crazy. I also got to check out Conolly’s Plot, the oldest and most renowned teak plantation in the world. Evening time had me being all touristy and floating around in the Chaliyar river on a boat ride. Chaliyar happens to be the fourth longest river in Kerala.

By the time I was ready to head back from Nilambur, I felt just like I used to when my summer vacations were coming to an end – happy, content, pampered, stuffed, and already a little homesick. If only I could turn back time!

Contact Wandertrails at: https://www.wandertrails.comDivya fwd life Teak Town homestay

Author profile:

A Grammar Nazi for as long as she can remember, Divya Nambiar is a Content Editor with Wandertrails who has finally found a job where she can correct other people’s English AND get paid to do it. When she is not busy getting exasperated at English faux-pas and bad jokes, you might find her browsing through irctc.co.in and wandertrails.com to book tickets and plan her next getaway.

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Travel

Pushkar: A kaleidoscope of emotions

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Akash Mehrotra from the blog Hand of Colors recounts his vivid experience of the Pushkar fair

Words and photographs by Akash Mehrotra

Pushkar had been hanging in my thoughts like a dream since long. The very idea of camels and traders journeying across the vast deserts of Rajasthan since time immemorial to meet, socialize, and trade; had aroused an inkling in me to experience it. I wished to wrap myself with such moments, a complete teleportation from the urbane life to a rustic one, from economy that survives on cars to one where camels form an integral part.
Pushkar has a magnetism of its own – it’s very unlike the way one imagines Rajasthan. Fair or not, it will never cease to sweep you off its feet. The antiquity of the town is inspiring. The everyday world of Pushkar does more than inspire and encourage well-being, it makes the routine seem novel.

I was in Pushkar at the most appropriate time. Everywhere I turned, I could hear music, see a riot of colours, feel the exuberance, and sense Pushkar’s ability to engage with tourists pouring in from across the world. And then there were the rustic hues of herders and their camels, trekking athwart the deserts.

The Pushkar fair

In the long evenings of autumn, when the moon starts its journey for the brightest night of the year, tribes from all over Rajasthan stream out onto the arid and stubbly fields of bajra, thickets, scrubs, and deserts, trudging with their beasts. Draped in turbans, they travel in rivulets of kaleidoscopic caravans. The women of the tribes are not far behind, clothed in their gypsy bright skirts swaying in autumn winds like daffodils, bright silver jewellery rivalling the smoldering sun, and sporting a big bright bindi on their forehead. And at a certain distance are scattered groups of travellers, some from different corners of the country and more from abroad. The annual animal fair has transformed into something far bigger, engaging and inviting.
Pushkar has grown, both as a colourful animal fair and an international tourist destination. While traders throng here to trade cattle, sheep, camels and thoroughbred horses; families, separated by miles, find it a common place to exchange greetings; and for tourists, it’s an escape from their urban world with a great deal of craft shopping and café hopping.

Looking forward

The day started early for us. The central area of the fair was crowded with visitors thronging the shops and eateries, while the herders and traders took the plains, focusing on their business. The colonisation of backpackers have made this a model town: a place created by and for the tourists, with multi-cuisine eateries, chic cafes, schools of yoga, massage, Indian music and dance, shops selling herbal cosmetics, perfumes and the clothing that characterises the backpacker diaspora. And it’s all there, shops feasting with colourful textiles, silver jewellery and crafts, town lost in backpacker’s thoughtless party reverie, locals engrossed in their daily chores playfully mixed with spiritual detours, houses with open courtyards with murals to keep you on click frenzy mode, nomads exhibiting their ravishing dreadlocks and loincloths and a gastronomic culture that has evolved due to mixing of myriad of cultures and aspirations. And as you wander in the narrow lanes of the town, these images turn clearer. The rooftops of medieval buildings with exquisite jharokhas have been turned into cafes, offering new vignettes of the lake with its ghats and the sprawl of temples and the town around the sacred lake. Some ancient courtyards have been turned into meditation centres. The key is to have enough time on hand, to pencil in such moments, after all everything in Pushkar moves at its own leisurely pace. From temple to temple, take your time to discover the cultural and spiritual nuances of the place.

The divine in Pushkar

In the evenings, as the sun slips into the valleys, the lake comes alive with the flickering of the lamps during the scenic aarti. The Pushkar Fair ends on a full moon night, and thankfully, I was there to bear witness to his heavenly spectacle. The ambience with lights twinkling in the twilight was ethereal. Drumbeats, clash of cymbals and chiming of bells herald the aarti on the final day i.e. on Purnima (full moon). Lamps are lit and placed all around the Ghat. I had seen its jamboree, its gay abandon, the way it has engaged with all cultures and left a part of it in them, and the way it has shaped itself to be a hot tourist destination.
Apart from all the spiritual, culinary, musical, and shopping adventures, you can hire a bike and go to Ratnagiri Hill for sublime views of the sunset over the lake. Take a one and a half hour hike up to Savitri Devi Temple from where the sky appears a fabulous canvass of delight most times of the year.

 

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Living

Ushering Springtime in Ladakh

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photographs by Divya Prasad

The Dosmoche Festival marks the end of winters, making way for the colours of Spring

Words by  Divya Prasad

On a warm February morning, the cold winds coming from the far away mountains seemed to be asleep. Cymbals clank, trumpets sing, and drums play melodies of yore. Masked faces stand out amongst the blue skies and vast mountains. Prayers hummed in circles and a mist of incense smoke invade my senses on the narrow streets of Leh. Streets were filled with joy as the monks dance around and a sacred effigy makes its way through the lively by-lanes.
It is the time when the snowy peaks warm up, bursting in the colours of Spring. Little bazaars spring up in the lanes, selling happiness in packages to all. People from villages far away set out on a journey to honour and celebrate the Spring gods and goddesses. And Dosmoche marches forth, dancing in full glory.

Welcoming Spring

The Dosmoche festival marks the end of winter and is a ritualistic celebration to welcome the spring. Symbolically, these Bön Buddhist animalistic tantric rituals are performed to ward off evil spirits and bring purity of thoughts as the Spring season sets in. It is a time to gather; and consciously cleanse and purify life. Metaphorically, it signifies releasing the evils of winter by appeasing the deities.
The Lamas wear masks, each representing an animal and deity spirit. They perform the Cham dance, swaying to the rhythm of drums, trumpets, and cymbals. Their inner power rises to the sacred beats and the holy smoke of Juniper leaves. In circles, they dance away into a state of trance. The ‘Cham’ represents the triumph of good over evil.

The legend of Cham dance

The sacred Cham dance was conceived by Guru Padmasambhava when Samye Monsatery was built in Northern Tibet. In ancient times, the Cham dance was a secretive tantric dance, the knowledge of which was passed on to a few chosen Lamas. Some Cham dances are also passed on by master lamas through mystical dreams and visions. A Cham is performed after five days of deep meditation, rituals, and chanting. The Cham also incorporates the nine ‘rasas’ of dancing. The Janak attires worn while performing the Cham represent deities, demons, and animals. The Cham dance is beyond the physical realm; it is metaphysical since it requires the monks to be in a transcendental state by forgetting the self. To understand the deities and be them as a means to enlightenment in the rituals is the essence of Cham. Being the deity and exorcising the evil forces; and show them the path to light is the sole purpose of Cham. While performing the ‘Cham’, the dancers identify with a particular deity, invoke them and conceiving the very universe as a Mandala with the deity. It involves rigorous chanting, gestures of hand and feet, yet being in a blissful state of meditation.

Legend has it that Guru Padmasambhava performed the first Cham in 770 AD to ward off evil spirits lurking around while building the Samye monastery. King Trishong Detsen called upon Guru Padmasambhava and invited him to Tibet to resolve this issue. The King and the artisans observed that every night, the evil spirits destroyed all that was created in the monastery that was under construction. This was disturbing the sanctum of the monastery. Guru Padmasambhava invoked his Tantric powers and performed rituals inside the monastery to spiritually cleanse the sacred space. In one of the rituals, Guru Padmasambhava buried five threads under the ground where the monastery stood, donning masks and a Janak attire; invoking the Chamara deity. He thumped and swayed in a trance, performing powerful Tantric mudras and postures to banish the evil spirits. Guru Padmasambhava drew Thiks – a sacred line in all directions to ward off the evil spirits. The Thiks kept the evil spirits from entering the monastery’s sacred space. It is also believed that Padmasambhava created the Vajrakila Mandala on Mount Hepori – one of the four sacred mountains of Tibet which is located in the east of Samye monastery. By creating this powerful tantric Mandala, Guru Padmasabhava pacified all disharmonious elements and evil spirits. This further appeased the local spirits and helped spread Buddhism. Thus, the Samye monastery was built like a Mandala – a sacred geometric pattern. The monastery complex is a Mandala representing the Buddhist universe while the main temple is built as a Mandala representing Mount Meru at the centre of this universe.

The Vajrakila dance performed by Guru Padmasambhava is also known for pacifying the angry ghost of Mashang Drompakye who harmed humans. Through this Vajra dance, Guru Padmasambhava transformed the soul into light and returned it to Sukhavati – the land of bliss. Since then, the Cham was passed on to King Trisong Detsen, his wife, and the generations ahead. The knowledge of ‘Cham’ is unwritten and can only be passed on spiritually. Today, the ‘Cham’ lives in the hearts and souls of a few older monks.

I immersed myself in the trance of the mystical dance, soaking in the stories narrated by a Lama who proposed to be my storyteller for the hour. The dancers chopped the air with their swords; stomping the dusty earth and invoking deities in their transcendental states through movements and gestures. The storyteller lama explained that the sword symbolises wisdom and the evil is the ignorance within us and that the path to enlightenment is the purpose of Cham.

The ceremonies were performed, as the masked lamas danced around the pyre. The Champson lead the sacred effigy created of wool, threads, butter, and barley to a gathering ground for a ritual to welcome the magic of Spring. This effigy; made of barley flour and butter represents the evil forces, which is cut with a sword by the Champson who invokes the evil into his own body. The effigy constructed over months by the Lamas with rituals and meditation is burnt to ashes, as the evil confronts death.

To me, the festival of Dosmoche was a lesson on life. A hope that spring is inevitable after a winter. That joy exists in each withering moments of life, if we can find the light in them. I feel grateful to have been a part of this sacred festival in the winters of Ladakh. While the wind carried its blessings through the ‘Lungtas’ fluttering high up in the snowy mountains, and prayers voiced through hearts; these mystical tales of light sprung forth in my heart.

Author bio:
A travel blogger at Obsessive Compulsive Traveller, Divya Prasad is also an energy healer and Sacred Geometric Artist at Iktomi

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Living

Untouched Kumbalangi

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A trip to Kumabalangi reveals a village preserved in tradition and the wisdom of past generations

We didn’t choose our destination; it chose us, in the form of Kumbalangi. A suburb of Kochi, Kumbalangi is the first integrated model tourism and fisheries village of India. It is a paradise with water and lush greenery consuming the sins of ‘modern development’ and striking a critical balance on behalf of nature.
To read more about Akhil Joshy’s account of his visit to Kumbalangi, grab a copy of the latest issue of FWD Life’s Travel Special issue Dec-Jan 2018.

Words by Akhil Joshy                                 Photographs from Wandertrails

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